These Rivermen are frustrators. Peoria's ownership can't take the $5-$6 million yearly expense of an IHL franchise and will drop to the East Coast League next season at about a third the cost, but its players aren't ready to move out of their lockers just yet.
The Utah Grizzlies keep thinking the Rivermen ought to go away. The Grizzlies are the defending Turner Cup champions with a 49-29-4 followup regular-season record while the Rivermen needed everything to go right the last regular-season week to even make the playoffs at 39-38-5.But here they are, tied at three wins each in the best-of-seven West semifinal, and Peoria has momentum, Monday's win being its second in a row - a 2-0 Delta Center shutout at that.
"It's down to one game, so we like our chances," says Riverman coach Paul MacLean.
His team should have folded after a 9-2 loss at home Friday to Utah. His goalie (Andre Racicot, acquired on trade-deadline day) should have been shaken after giving up the first eight of those goals. Instead, Racicot and the Rivermen won 2-1 Saturday and didn't allow a goal Monday.
"You'd have to say he responded," says MacLean, who says they'd all better respond.
"The key to our success," says winger Ron Hoover, "is playing strong defense. They got a little bit frustrated," Hoover added about the Grizzlies in Game 6.
That frustration led to numerous penalties, and Peoria, 0-for-22 on the power play going into the game, finally scored its first power-play goal on Utah's fourth penalty and a second power-play goal on Utah's seventh penalty. Peoria was 2-for-11with the man advantage.
"We played solid defensively; they've got a lot of offensive players on their team, and they're frustrated they didn't get the scoring opportunities that they wanted," said Hoover. His line (Lee Leslie, Jason Miller) had no playoff goals till Monday when they helped produce both.
Hoover, in his fourth season at Peoria, says the Rivermen are playing for themselves and their teammates, who've withstood a tough year together, and they're playing for the city that won't have them anymore, too. "Whenever you have a team leaving somewhere for good," says Hoover, "you want to leave a lasting impression, have people remember what the team is all about."
"Our future is now," says MacLean.
NOTES: A caution to the Grizz's Delta Center co-residents. Peoria's IHL franchise next season becomes San Antonio's IHL franchise. Like the NBA Spurs, it was down three games to one to Utah, and this (future) San Antonio team has come back to tie.